Best Way to Get Around Chicago – A Visitors Guide

From world-class attractions like the Shedd Aquarium to Millennium Park, there are so many reasons to visit Chicago.

With so much to do, you’ll need some form of transportation during your vacation. Before you begin your adventures in the Windy City, make sure you have a plan for getting around Chicago.

Ride the Bus

As with any city, Chicago has a robust bus system. With numerous bus routes and stops along the way, getting around Chicago via the bus is quite simple.

To properly ride the bus, you need to know which route to take. Use this map and guide to find the specific routes and stops you need. Once you know where you’re going, head to the nearest bus stop and wait for your bus.

As the bus approaches, you will find the route and destination displayed on the bus. Confirm that this is the correct bus, head on in, pay your fare, and enjoy the ride.

bus on the street in chicago illinois
By Daniel Schwen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Tips for Getting Around Chicago on the Bus

For a pleasant bus ride, keep these tips in mind:

  • Some bus stops are served by multiple bus routes. Double-check that you’re on the right bus!
  • A bus driver can answer any route questions you may have.
  • Have the correct change for the fare.
  • Have your fare ready before you get on the bus.
  • Use the stop request cord or stop request button to let the bus driver know you’d like to get off.
  • Always exit from the rear of the bus.

For more information on getting around Chicago using the bus system, visit the Chicago Transit Authority’s Website.

Ride the “L”

Chicago’s train system is known as the “L.” The name originated from a shortened version of the word “elevated.” Much like riding the New York City subway system, getting around Chicago on the “L” is easier than it appears.

The train system services 140 stations located throughout the city. First, make sure you know where you are going and which line and station will best serve you. This CTA guide will once again help you determine which line and station you need.

After finding the correct line, make your way into the station and pay your fare. To pay your fare, you’ll need a Ventra card. To purchase or load more funds onto a Ventra card, head to the Ventra card vending machines located at the front of every station right as you walk in.

Related Post: 3 Days in Chicago Itinerary – How to Conquer the Windy City in 72 Hours

Once purchased, touch a Ventra Card or Ventra ticket to the reader located at the top of every turnstile. Now that you’ve gained access to the station find the right platform.

Maps and signs are located throughout the station. Follow those directly to your platform and wait for the train.

When a train arrives, confirm the destination and line are correct by looking at the signs on the train. It’s as easy as that!

downtown view of L train tracks in downtown Chicago, Illinois, USA

Tips for Getting Around Chicago on the “L”

Before getting around Chicago on the “L,” remember these tips:

  • Stand back from the platform edge and do not run through the platforms.
  • Let current passengers exit the train first.
  • Each train station has an attendant who can answer all of your questions.
  • When you need to get to O’Hare International Airport, use the Blue Line.
  • The “L” has eight different train lines, each with a different color.

Walk Around Chicago

The best way to experience the Windy City is by simply walking around, especially during the warmer seasons. All of the main Chicago attractions and popular hotels are within close proximity to one another, meaning walking is a feasible way of getting around Chicago.

Related Post: Cheap Hotels Chicago – Where to Stay on a Budget

Plus, visitors can take advantage of the Chicago Pedway system, This innovative system of tunnels and bridges connects 40 blocks of the Central Business District.

If you’re visiting attractions or getting a bite to eat in that area, use the Chicago Pedway system to avoid inclement weather such as rain, snow, or extreme wind.

Chicago skyline aerial drone view from above, lake Michigan and city of Chicago downtown skyscrapers cityscape from Lincoln park, Illinois, USA

Tips for Walking Through Chicago

Before you begin to roam, take our advice for walking around Chicago:

  • Eight city blocks in Chicago is 1 mile.
  • In Chicago, the city streets are laid out in a simple grid system.
  • Follow all traffic signs and stay on the sidewalk.

Take a Taxi

A staple in city transportation, Chicago has taxi services available for visitors as well. Getting around Chicago in a taxi is as easy.

Simply call a cab company or hail one of the many taxis driving around the city. In addition, e-hailing a cab is now possible with the easy-to-use CHICABS app.

However, take a water taxi for an extraordinary Chicago vacation during warmer weather! With a water taxi, you can get to your destination efficiently and see Chicago’s greatest sites along the way.

Rent a Car

Getting around Chicago in a rental car is not difficult. With the gridded street system, driving is rather easy. However, the cost of parking in a city, gas, and rental fees add up quickly.

Considering that finding a parking space in Chicago is difficult, you may want to think twice about renting a car. The ParkChicago app can help you find and pay for parking spaces throughout the city should you prefer to drive.

On the other hand, if you plan to travel outside of city limits, a rental car is your best choice.

Family Walking with Child Through NYC

Bike Through Chicago

In recent years, Chicago has transformed into a bike-friendly city. With the new 606 bike trail, navigating the Windy City on a bike is easier than ever. What was once an abandoned rail line is now 2.7 miles of trails and a park.

Bike rentals through a service called Divvy are available throughout the city. If needed, bikes can be brought on buses and trains as well. Look for the green decal on the train or bus to determine if bikes are permitted.

Ridesharing Services

Residents and visitors alike rely on ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft to navigate Chicago. Using your smartphone and the services’ app, you can request a ride to and from anywhere within city limits.

Related Post: Chicago Tourist Traps to Avoid – Unmasking the Windy City

Travelers love this option as it’s cheaper than a rental car, competitive rates compared to taxis, and it sparks conversations with locals.

For a great ride, follow our advice:

  • Don’t forget to rate your driver on the app.
  • Be polite and courteous.
  • Be considerate about bringing food and beverages into the car.
  • Try not to keep the car waiting once they’ve arrived at the pick-up location.

Frequently Asked Questions About Getting Around Chicago

Yes, on CTA buses, you can pay for a one-way fare in cash directly when you board. However, keep in mind that exact change is required, as drivers do not give change.

For more convenience and to avoid needing exact change for each ride, consider purchasing a Ventra Card or using the Ventra App. This allows you to preload fares and offers a smoother travel experience across Chicago's public transportation network.

Yes, commuting in Chicago is quite straightforward. The city is easy to navigate by walking, taxi, and public transportation, making it accessible for residents and visitors alike to get around efficiently.

Plus, with a well-organized grid system and numerous transit options, reaching your destination is usually hassle-free.

Chicago, like any major city, has areas with higher and lower safety concerns, but if you stay alert and use common sense then bustling Chicago can be a safe city to visit. Tourist areas are generally well-patrolled and have a significant presence of both security and police forces.

It's advisable to do a bit of research on the neighborhoods you plan to visit, especially if you'll be exploring beyond the most popular tourist spots.

Keeping an eye on your belongings and staying aware of your surroundings will go a long way in ensuring you have a safe and enjoyable trip.

Enjoy Your Trip to Chicago

Now that you know getting around Chicago is easy, it’s time to plan your vacation. Have you booked a hotel? Purchased show tickets or reserve a tour? It’s easy with Tripster.

Have you Been to the Windy City?

Which tips would you share with a first-timer?

Leave us a comment below!

close up of Erin smiling on a sunny day

Written by Erin Poche

Erin Poche` is a Utah-based writer and editor for Tripster and contributing writer for BeyondType1. She also writes and edits for an indie...

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